Using cot beds safely
By Alison Potter
Discover the safest place to position your cot bed, need-to-know information about what kind of cot mattress is best, and tips for assembling your cot bed safely.
In this article
The position of the cot bed in your bedroom or nursery is very important.
For the first six months, experts say it's safest for your baby to sleep in the same room as you, but after that you might want to move them to their own room.
Follow these cot bed safety tips to keep your baby as safe as possible at night.
1) Away from obvious danger
- Avoid putting your cot bed beneath a wall-hanging frame or a mirror.
- Keep the cot away from shelves or ledges.
- Power cables are a strangulation hazard, even for young babies, and should be kept well out of reach.
2) Away from heat sources
- Babies don’t need especially warm rooms, and all-night heating is rarely needed.
- Babies should never sleep next to a radiator or in direct sunlight.
- To keep an eye on the temperature, buy a room thermometer or get a baby monitor with a temperature display.
3) Away from footholds
- Don't leave anything in the cot, or place the cot close to another piece of furniture that could provide a foothold and allow your baby to climb out.
- Cot bumpers, which aren't generally recommended because of the danger of suffocation and overheating, need to be removed when your baby can get up on their hands and knees, so they can't be used to help them climb out.
- Make sure there are no trailing strings or cot-bumper ties, as they pose a strangulation risk.
4) Away from curtains and blinds
- Strings and cords from curtains and blinds are another potential strangulation hazard, which need to be kept well away.
- These can also give your baby something to hold on to and potentially help them climb out of the cot.
5) Use the base in the correct position
- Many cots and cot beds have adjustable bases that you can move lower as your baby grows, so that he or she isn't able to roll or climb out of the cot.
- Make sure yours is on the correct setting, and check regularly to avoid any injuries when your baby inevitably tries to climb over the top.
- The highest base position is only suitable for use until your baby is about three months old.
- The lowest position is the safest, and should always be used as soon as your baby is old enough to sit up unaided – usually about eight months old.
- Change the cot into a bed when your baby can reach over the top rail, or shows any signs of trying to climb out.
- It's safer to convert the cot to a junior bed so your little one can't hurt themselves when escaping, rather than spending hours in A&E with a possible concussion.
- The lowest side of the cot shouldn’t be lower than the shoulder height of your baby.
- Once your baby is able to pull themself up to stand (approximately nine months old) and get their arms over the side rail, they will be able to climb out.
Drop-sided cots have been banned in the US, after several children died because they became trapped between the drop side and the base of the bed.
Some people still have concerns over their safety, and the British and European safety standard has been changed to require a lock on drop sides when in the lowered position.
Our furniture-safety experts believe that this type of accident is not possible with a cot bed that complies with the relevant British standards for cots, which are different from less-stringent standards in the US.
Make sure you look out for the BS EN 716: 2005 marking if you're buying a drop-sided cot bed. We'd also advise never leaving your child unattended in the cot when the drop side is down.
Look for a cot bed that conforms to British Standards BS EN 716 as a cot, and BS 8509 as a bed.
The distance between each bar shouldn't be less than 2.5cm or more than 6.5cm, so that your baby’s head can’t get trapped.
As your child gets older keep an eye out to check that the bars remain smooth and securely fixed.
There's a wide variety of cot mattresses on the market, including pocket spring, foam and coir.
Whichever you go for, it's essential to choose one that fits your cot bed correctly and that you can easily keep clean.
Go to our cot mattress reviews to see which ones passed our rigorous safety tests, and check our Don't Buy cot mattresses to see which ones to avoid.
The Lullaby Trust recommends the following:
- It's very important to keep your baby’s mattress clean and dry.
- Ideally you should buy a new mattress for each new baby because the top layer becomes less firm over time, which could pose a suffocation risk for babies under six months.
- If you're reusing a cot mattress, check it carefully to make sure it's in a good condition. It needs to be flat and firm, not soft or saggy. Crucially, it needs to fit the cot without any gaps so there's no risk of entrapment.
- Second-hand cot mattresses should be checked carefully for any damage, for example any tears, cracks or holes. Clean and dry the mattress thoroughly, and consider buying a new cover for it or a waterproof mattress protector.
- You can use your cot in the highest position until your baby is three months old.
- Change the cot base to its lowest position once your baby can sit up unaided.
- Change the cot to a bed as soon as your toddler shows any signs of attempting to climb out.
- Once the cot bed becomes a bed, you can buy L-shaped bed guards. The bottom part of the L slides in under the mattress while the uppermost bit sticks up, providing a soft barrier at the edge of the bed. Blow-up guards to put under the sheet are also available.
- For a homemade solution, put a rolled-up blanket or pillow under the outer edge of the mattress to raise it slightly - your toddler will have to roll up a small incline before he or she can fall out, making it less likely.
- Until your toddler is used to the bed, put a spare mattress, soft rug, blanket or duvet next to the bed to soften a fall if he or she does roll out.
Cot beds can be a pain to put together, even if you have more than one pair of hands and a reasonable level of DIY experience.
These top tips from our experts will help you to avoid problems when setting up your little one's cot bed.
1) Get the instructions
- The instructions contain vitally important information about keeping your baby safe while they sleep.
- Don't worry if you don't have the original instructions for your cot bed – most manuals are available online, or you can contact the manufacturer to get them sent to you.
- This is especially important if you're using a second-hand cot bed.
2) Get some help
- Most cot beds are large and unwieldy, and it's far easier to assemble them with two people, even though some can be done single-handedly.
- Most instruction manuals tell you to assemble the cot bed with it standing up, but we've found that assembling the cot on its side is usually much easier.
3) Use your judgement
- Instruction manuals are not always as helpful as you'd expect. Some lack text, or contain incorrect pictures or descriptions of what to do.
- If the cot bed doesn't look right, or is difficult to use, you've probably assembled it wrongly.
- If the base of the cot bed seems really high after assembling it, you’ve probably put it together upside down.
4) Don't use too much force
- Never bang wooden dowels in with a hammer, as we've found they can go straight through to the other side of the wood.
- Splitting the headboards and footboards when you convert the cot to a bed can be really tough. The instructions usually say you should ‘simply pull it apart’, but as you do this take care not to break the wooden dowels that hold the pieces together.
- Sometimes the bolts supplied are poor quality compared with those you might buy from a DIY store, and they're easy to cross-thread, which means they’ll no longer screw up. Make sure you have a few spares on hand when you assemble or reassemble your cot bed.
5) Cot bed adjustment tips
- When adjusting the height of the base, take off one of the fixed sides so you can see a lot more of the fixings and get a better grip on the components.
- When adjusting the height of the base, it's often useful to loosen the sides first and then re-tighten them afterwards. Otherwise, the base is clamped tightly in place, and it's difficult to get to all the fixings and manoeuvre the components loose.
- The instructions often don't give you the best advice on how to operate the drop side. Giving it a gentle nudge with your shin after you lift it up is usually the easiest and smoothest way.